The Farmers Insurance Open begins at Torrey Pines on Wednesday and our golf expert has six selections.
2pts e.w. Jason Day at 25/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1.5pts e.w. Maverick McNealy at 40/1 (Paddy Power, Betfair 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Sahith Theegala at 50/1 (Sky Bet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Cam Davis at 60/1 (Sky Bet, bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Taylor Pendrith at 80/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Gary Woodland at 100/1 (bet365, Paddy Power, Betfair 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
It's a Wednesday start for the Farmers Insurance Open, something to do with the gridiron according to my spies in the United States, and whether that's good news or bad for Jon Rahm is open to debate.
Rahm's form figures read 1-4-1-8-1-1, which means he's halfway to the phone number for 90s staple Live And Kicking, and you don't need me, Trevor nor Simon to tell you that his prospects here at Torrey Pines are outstanding.
This is the golf course upon which Rahm eagled the final hole to win his first professional title, and the one upon which he birdied the final two holes to win his first major. It's where he proposed to his wife. It's a home away from home; the place where he's most at ease.
Rahm is 4/1 to follow up Sunday's narrow victory in another event he'd won before, the clip from 6/1 justifiable by field strength alone never mind the fact he won again, and there are either form (Justin Thomas), fitness (Xander Schauffele, Will Zalatoris) or psychological (Collin Morikawa) concerns next to the names of all bar a couple of his biggest threats on paper.
Many will consider an each-way double with Rory McIlroy something of a bet to nothing this week, but 20/1 about two golfers winning is never likely to appeal and I'll be taking both of them on.
As far as Rahm goes, he seldom plays the week after a win and when he did that here in 2018, he faded from halfway favouritism to by far his worst finishing position yet in La Jolla. It's not much, but it is enough to suggest that turning out so quickly might be the thing that catches him out after a tighter-than-expected tussle in the AmEx.
Tony Finau is the biggest threat but priced accordingly and the one I wanted to be on was Max Homa, but with his price contracting all the time I've narrowly come down on the side of JASON DAY.
Homa of course brings all the recent winning form, including three of his last six starts in his home state of California, but Day's course credentials are impeccable and the timing of this event just looks perfect for him.
The Australian chose to play the AmEx last week purely to get sharpened up for Torrey Pines, where he won in 2015 and 2018 and has also been second, third and fifth as a professional, having collected plenty of positive experiences here as an amateur.
That he could contend on his way to third place as recently as last year, when he'd gone almost than six months without a top-20 finish, tells you everything you need to know about how well suited he is to this particular challenge and it's worth saying that this year's field is a good deal weaker.
The South Course (where 54 of the 72 holes are played) in particular matches up perfectly with his long drives and high approaches, his scrambling can be hugely important around these small greens, and on them he's been one of the best poa annua putters around for more than a decade now.
Day returns to Torrey Pines on the back of five top-25s in his last six starts, the only blip along the way a poor first round at the RSM Classic. Notably, his remodelled swing is producing significantly improved results in terms of his approach play, which has powered his good golf since last summer, and his putting is now catching up.
All of which makes him a likely candidate to go close and that's a word he used when discussing his health and his swing last week, after producing a fabulous second round on the toughest of three courses used.
"Yeah, touch wood, I feel good," he said. "I've been feeling great actually for a good long while now. I feel like I'm doing the right things. Not only on the golf course, but off the golf course as well. That's kind of yielded into, I feel like, a better motion at it out here on the golf course.
"Still some of the stuff, the old stuff is in there still, but I kind of got to work through that slowly. Because if I try and press too hard on some of the swing changes the body doesn't really adapt that quick and can potentially hurt certain areas of your body.
"But overall this past six months to a year it's been really, really good for me. So (I feel) really, really close."
It's hard to escape the fact he's been significantly cut following the AmEx, but where this former world number one is concerned I'm happy with the revised prices so he's a bet at 25/1.
Hideki Matsuyama is another who comes with a fitness asterisk at the best of times and his approach play caught my eye at the Sony Open, but for all he enjoys the South Course and poa annua greens he's only once properly contended for this title, which is a modest return for a regular visitor of his undoubted class.
As such I found Taylor Montgomery more appealing but rather than take 28/1 about a Korn Ferry Tour graduate in an event which will still be hard to win, I'll mark his namesake TAYLOR PENDRITH down as the bet of the week at 80s.
I've mentioned already how advantageous big-hitting is here, but to spell it out more starkly I think this is pound-for-pound the best tournament of the year for the longest drivers on the PGA Tour.
We saw evidence of that when Luke List joined Day, Rahm, Justin Rose and Bubba Watson on the roll-of-honour in an event long dominated by Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson before that, and you'll often find bigger hitters among the also-rans.
For the most part that's down to the sheer length of the South Course, but it's also because its fairways are hard to hit at just about any distance. That means a lot of shots played from the rough, where those with higher swing speeds and shorter irons are able to throw their approaches high into the air and hold what are small, firm targets.
Never are things as straightforward as fag-paper analysis like that can suggest, and it's worth saying that there are only one or two shorter hitters priced at less than 100/1 anyway, but those with an extra 10 yards have got ideal conditions to put that to use – and Pendrith is one such player, among the longest around in fact.
That power saw him feature in the 2020 US Open at Winged Foot before narrowly missing the cut here a year later, but he showed what he can do at Torrey Pines when 16th here last year, playing better than that finishing position on the South Course (12th) but leaving a couple out there on the easier North Course.
Pendrith's prodigious driving saw him lead the field in strokes-gained off-the-tee before his halfway exit at the US Open and he was rock solid through the bag on his first start in the Farmers, since which he's taken his game up a level and of course played in the Presidents Cup last September.
Although the Canadian perhaps hasn't kicked on since he'd only played three tournaments prior to last week's return and continues to drive the ball to elite level throughout each of them, only for that club to cost him a Sunday tee-time in the AmEx.
Losing three strokes off the tee is extremely rare for a player of his quality but look closer and it was really two foul balls that cost him, each resulting in reloads. Regardless, it's just not something to dwell upon, because one of the PGA Tour's very best drivers has not lost that ability overnight – chances are he clicks back into gear.
Encouragingly, his maligned approach play was better and no doubt has been the focus of his off-season practise, and he still managed a perfectly acceptable eight-under in 54 holes to miss the cut narrowly in the sort of shootout that isn't likely to bring out his best.
A small step forward from that sharpener would make Pendrith a massive threat and I love the fact that an insignificant missed cut has helped nudge him down the market, just as he heads to arguably the best tournament for him on the calendar.
In times gone by this wouldn't have been the event to go siding with maidens, Rahm bucking the trend in 2017, but List did the same and this is a markedly weaker field than in most previous years. Besides, when any event has been won 10 times by Woods and Mickelson combined, that's immediately going to create a misleading trend.
As such I won't let it put me off MAVERICK MCNEALY and SAHITH THEEGALA, two of the best non-winners on the circuit, both with local ties and stacks of course experience, and both playing well.
McNealy will probably fall into the frustrating category if he doesn't crack the top five again soon, but he's twice been runner-up in his home state and, having played well in each of his last six starts, is primed to extend that run.
Another big-hitter who firmly ranks among the best putters on the PGA Tour, his game is similar to that of Day when he was dominating here, and McNealy himself has finished 15th, 29th and 30th from four appearances to date, including when producing one of the best weekends in the field back in 2020.
Another excellent knock around the South Course (67) in round three last year confirms that he has everything required to go close and seventh place in the Sony Open last time out was a lovely way to begin what may well be a breakthrough year.
McNealy is currently ranked 61st in the world which means he's on the cusp of the majors now and as well as an Augusta debut to play for, he'll no doubt be desperate to qualify for a US Open close to home in LA. This next month on the west coast could be make-or-break and he's built a platform for success.
Theegala wouldn't be among the very longest hitters around but he's well above average and, given his propensity for a wild one from time to time, it's to his benefit that everyone will have to play from the rough for a good deal of the week.
He comes into this on the back of a low-key effort in the AmEx, but he's a similar price in a markedly weaker field as a result and I do think this tougher test will suit a player who almost won the Phoenix Open (no shootout despite appearances) and went so well at Muirfield Village and in the Valspar Championship.
Theegala won the Junior World Championship here in 2004, 2006 and 2008 (yes, these are form lines from when he was a small child) and was inside the top three in 2009, 2012 and 2015, experiences which surely helped in some small way as he contended here on his Farmers debut, sitting sixth at halfway after rounds of 67 and 68.
They show that he can take care of both courses and come the end of the week he ranked seventh in strokes-gained approach, another indication that he was immediately comfortable at the daunting South Course so early on in his rookie season.
"I played three Junior Worlds, like a bunch of other tournaments out on the South course," he confirmed. "I only played eight holes for the practice round, so I felt like I knew the golf course really well and played it enough times.
"Feeling really comfortable, but you can never let your guard down, it's a big course. It's one of the tougher ones out here I've got to imagine. Yeah, feel really comfortable with it though."
Theegala looks a winner-in-waiting and I'm more than happy to chance him under such suitable conditions, in the hope that he can rein in that driver just a tad and go to work from there.
Nick Hardy and Will Gordon are two other maidens who made some appeal, particularly the latter, but I can't let GARY WOODLAND go unsupported at such a big price.
Woodland has made my staking plan for this event a few times and so far without quite delivering, but he's shown bags of promise and especially so at the South Course, where he's been among the top six scorers on three separate occasions.
No wonder Woodland has spoken about how comfortable he feels at one of the longest and most difficult courses they play so it looks an obvious place for him to win for the first time since the 2019 US Open, a triumph which of course came along the coast at Pebble Beach.
A missed cut at the Sony Open appears to have put everyone off but he did shoot a second-round 65 there, doing everything well, and I can happily put his poor opener down to the fact it was his first round since Houston in November, where he finished ninth on another municipal made for big-hitters.
Had this tournament taken place a week later he'd have been put in at 50/1 and having selected him at odds ranging from 22/1 to 66s last year, it's fair to say I feel he's overpriced as he continues along the recovery trail.
Woodland finished 39th here last year on the back of a missed cut at the AmEx but went on to record five top-10s in his next 22 starts, so he's been very close. The fact that he's prone to going missing for a day can work both ways and I'm hoping it's to our benefit given that this suits his game so well, with a change in clubs far from enough to dissuade me.
Brendan Steele is another high-ball hitter who flushed his way through the weekend of the AmEx, shooting 14-under at the Stadium Course. He's only managed a best of 17th in this event but was the third-best scorer at the South Course in 2017, so watch for him if the change from bermuda to poa annua greens does spark him into life.
He's priced generously at 175/1 by Paddy Power and Betfair but would make less appeal at the general 100s so I'll sign off with CAM DAVIS instead.
Another with plenty of Torrey Pines experience, Davis was in fact the best player in the field from tee-to-green here in 2021, only to produce one of the worst putting displays of his career to finish mid-pack.
All told he's now made five cuts in five appearances at the PGA Tour event he knows best, one where he's carded a round of 65 at the North Course and produced sub-70 rounds at the South, and this is plainly one of the best opportunities on the calendar for the talented Aussie.
It's markedly easier than last week, where he was a good bit shorter to see off a field which featured Scottie Scheffler, Tom Kim and Sam Burns, and while disappointing in an event he likes, it generally pays not to place too much stock in performances in multi-course pro-ams.
Davis started the year as a player I had very high hopes for and having flushed his way through the Sony Open two weeks ago, one quiet week in the desert might serve as the perfect rope-a-dope.
Posted at 1800 GMT on 23/01/23
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